Friday, February 18, 2011

Villain Tune-Up: The Parasite.

'All sins tend to be addictive, and the terminal point of addiction is damnation.' W.H. Auden

For the model upon which the entire genre is based, Superman doesn't have a lot of what you'd call 'name' villains. Sure there's Lex Luthor and Brainiac, but after that it doesn't take long before you're straining for more names. It could be argued that Darkseid has become an arch-villain of the man of steel (though mainly as an import from Jack Kirby's Fourth World saga), and there are more contemporary villains such as Metallo, Rampage, and Silver Banshee (although quiz most non-comics readers about the last three and you might get some recognition from Metallo via Smallville). Even Doomsday, the brutal force of nature that did what no other villain could previously, namely kill Superman, is hardly widely known. About the only character that might gain mass recognition is the infamous General Zod, and even then he wasn't tailored to be a regular foe of the man of steel, just an occasional menace that cropped up every now and again from the Phantom Zone.

At first glance it might seem that the Rudy Jones, aka the Parasite, is another one of these forgettable types. Good for a single-issue formulaic smackdown, then carted off to jail by the end of the story, curses foiled again, etc, etc. That's the impression, and I can certainly see how easily the character could be placed into that archetype. But in point of fact, the Parasite is one of the most potentially terrifying foes Superman could ever face. Let's break down why together.

First, a bit of backstory. Rudy Jones was one of life's losers, a guy always out to make a quick buck while secretly railing at a world that couldn't appreciate him and where people less deserving than him (namely everyone) got all the breaks cut for them. Working as a janitor at S.T.A.R. Labs (Scientific & Technological Advanced Research. I pulled that from memory people. MY NERD POWERS ARE SUPERIOR! Ahem), Rudy was convinced that there had to be something in those canisters marked 'hazardous waste' had to be worth selling. With that airtight bit of logic in his feeble mind, Rudy opened the container and exposed himself to a massive dose of strange radiation. This being the world of comics he didn't die a lingering death, but instead found himself transformed into a purple-skinned abomination with a drastically increased metabolism. Soon learning he had to feed from various living beings in order to survive (he could feed off electricity or nuclear power in a jam, but there's just something about the energy of other life forms). An early rampage through the streets of metropolis brought the newborn Parasite into conflict with Superman, and it was then he learned he could absorb metahuman abilities as well, draining Superman of his powers and finding the Man of Tomorrow to be the gourmet cuisine of his new diet. Since then Superman and the Parasite have clashed numerous times, often leaving Superman drained and weakened until his body can reabsorb sufficient solar energy to get him back up to par.

As time went on, Rudy's powers continued to mutate, allowing him not only to retain the energies of another living being, but also their memories as well. This was illustrated at it's most startling when the Parasite drained arrogant scientist Dr. Torvell Freeman dry, killing the man. . .but leaving his mind cohabiting the Parasite's form, Rudy oftentimes arguing with the 'Doc' in the middle of a battle. As bad as a large purple humanoid attempting to drain your life force dry must be, imagine one that's talking to himself in two entirely different voices. The Parasite's appearance gradually warped over time as well, becoming less human and more like a mix between a man and a lamprey. The two caused Superman no end of trouble, including one point where--after absorbing a shapeshifter and retaining the power to alter their appearance--they impersonated Lois Lane for several weeks in an effort to break Superman emotionally. Lois Lane. Superman's wife. See, that's creepy on a level I was barely aware existed.

Of course, this origin and background is pre-Geoff Johns' new take in Superman: Secret Origins. I've no idea what the Parasite's status quo is these days, but from what I have available it wouldn't be too difficult to give the character an upgrade from Menace of the Month to High Octane Nightmare Fuel.

Let's suppose that Dr. Freeman isn't the only consciousness that the Parasite's absorbed that has retained their individuality. Gradually all these personas begin to overwhelm poor Rudy, to the point that he's just one more face in the crowd. Over time these personalities begin to realize that they're not 'real', just copies of whatever poor souls were unfortunate enough to get in the way of the monstrosity they've now become part of. They get scared. . .they get angry. . .and then they get something far, far worse. They get organized.

The monstrosity that roars and lumbers through Metropolis, drawing in Superman and the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit and the Science Police, that's largely for show. Rudy's mind has been confined to that form (with one or two monitors to keep his gibbering wreck of a mind on track) while the rest of the mass has used the powers of shapeshifting they've gained to split off into various individual forms. After all, being confined to one form and feeding one person or group of people at a time? That's small potatoes. What one 'probe' feeds from, they all can feed from after all. And once they absorb a victim, their knowledge, experience, and form (right down to the DNA) becomes a part of the Whole. Simply put, the Whole is getting smarter by the day, and pretty soon it's going to set it's sights on expansion. Infiltration into facilities like S.T.A.R. Labs, Lexcorp, Wayne Enterprises. . .maybe even the metahuman community. After all, who's going to miss a couple of those third-string heroes? And if they work hard enough, maybe they'll even get into the Justice League. So much food, so much hunger, but the Whole can be patient. Patient like a spider is patient, like a shark on the hunt is patient. Not only will the prey come to them, it will do so with open arms and a smile.

And from the beaming face it stole from a corpse, the Parasite smiles back.